BRANDON — The Lightning took the ice Thursday for their first official training camp practice at TGH IcePlex. Here are some initial observations from the first look at the team.
Given the losses of core pieces forward Ondrej Palat (free agency) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh (trade), as well as the early season absences of Anthony Cirelli and Zach Bogosian due to shoulder injuries, there are holes to fill.
Steven Stamkos was put on a wing with center Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov to make up the top line. Alex Killorn, Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel, a unit seen in the postseason last year, were the second line. It was interesting to see rookie Cole Koepke on a line centered by Vladislav Namestnikov, with Ross Colton at the other wing. The “school bus” line of Pat Maroon, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Corey Perry took its first drive together.
With defenseman Jan Rutta gone in free agency, Victor Hedman had a new partner, Cal Foote. Mikhail Sergachev was paired with Erik Cernak. Newcomers Ian Cole and Philippe Myers were together, and Haydn Fleury and Nick Perbix rounded out the pairings.
That Koepke and Perbix were with the main practice group might indicate they have an inside track on making the roster for opening night Oct. 11. While the main group was on the IcePlex’s north rink, a group with other prospects who have a chance to crack the roster skated simultaneously on the south rink.
Cirelli, Bogosian look good in recovery
It was a promising sign for the Lightning that Cirelli and Bogosian were able to skate. They worked with the skills group that was first to hit the ice, a group made up mostly of prospects. Bogosian and Cirelli stood out not just because of their red no-contact jerseys, but also because they didn’t look like players who are still six to eight weeks away from returning to action.
Bogosian said that because he and Cirelli are returning from shoulder surgery, they can skate, shoot and do a lot of activities that they would normally do. They just aren’t cleared for contact.
“Just try to be smart with it,” Bogosian said. “But then in the same sense, just taking this time to work on things that you want to work on that maybe we didn’t get a chance to this summer, obviously, with going to the rehab. So, skating, shooting, the hands, everything like that, and just kind of observing the game and just trying to get better.”
Younger players, familiar faces vie for final spots
On the south rink, some familiar names impressed. Their chances of making the opening roster are slim given the amount of veterans returning, but forwards Gabriel Fortier and Alex Barre-Boulet could push for a final spot. They led some of the group’s lines.
Forward Gemel Smith, back in Lightning camp after a brief stint in Detroit last season, snapped a wrist shot past goalie Maxime Lagace during a drill designed to create 1-on-1 chances. Smith made up a strong line with Barre-Boulet and Felix Robert, while Fortier skated with Simon Ryfors and Gage Goncalves.
Smith, 28, played three games with Tampa Bay in October 2019 and five in 2020-21. An injury sidelined him for most of last season, and in January he was claimed off waivers by the Red Wings. One month later, the Lightning claimed him back, and he had five goals and eight points over 13 games with AHL Syracuse.
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Fortier spent 10 games last season with the Lightning, scoring one goal.
Lagace and Hugo Alnefelt — who combined to start 59 games with Syracuse last season — worked as the group’s goalies.
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